Print's hip young gunslinger: an interview with Richard Harnasz
By Jon Severs Thursday, 06 September 2012
In 2009, Richard Harnasz was named Trainee of the Year at the PrintWeek Awards. Three years on, we catch up with him for a dissection of print training that is essential reading for all
Many a time over the past few years, we have heard the call to get more young people into the industry. Yet not once, it seems, has anyone asked the young people that are embracing print how that might be done.
PrintWeek decided this was an oversight in need of rectifying and so we recently met up with the 2009 PrintWeek Awards Trainee of the Year Richard Harnasz. At the time of his win, Richard was a student at the London College of Communications, studying for a BA in print media management. After graduating, he worked at Euro Label Printers in London before winning a place on the HP graduate scheme. He is currently at the halfway point on the scheme, working in Barcelona for the HP Scitex Wide Format Industrial Printing Division.
What ensued in our chat was a dissection of print training that every print boss in the country would do well to take notice of, and one that proves how vital young blood will be for the future of print.
Jon Severs Richard, we should start by filling in your back story before you came to be crowned Student of the Year in 2009…
Richard Harnasz Well, from college I went to the London College of Communications (LCC) to study graphic design and immediately found I was not particularly enjoying it. I started searching out other outlets and when I attended a print evening class, suddenly everything made sense – printing brought together everything I was interested in: art, design, mechanical engineering, chemistry. I knew straight away I had to change my course to the BA in print media management.
I enjoyed every aspect of what I was being taught and the course was very good at getting us into contact with the industry. In the second year, my tutor, Alan Springett, suggested I should apply for the PrintWeek Awards. I knew the magazine – PrintWeek was something we read regularly – so I seized the opportunity and put together a portfolio.
JS How did you find the awards? Did you expect to win?
RH It was such a surreal night for me. I had just finished my first year at university and suddenly I had Heidelberg, one of the industry’s leading press manufacturers, inviting me to the biggest industry awards at one of London’s top hotels. It was also a black tie dinner, something I had never been to before. I loved it. It was such a good atmosphere with everyone so positive and happy. It really made me sure that this was an industry I wanted to be a part of.
I had no idea whether I would win, so I was really, really pleased when they announced my name. I also can’t praise Heidelberg enough for the support they gave me afterwards. The bursary was invaluable. It allowed me to really focus on my studies; not having to work in my spare time meant I could concentrate on seeing companies and really broadening my knowledge of the industry.
JS You must have been visiting companies around 2010. What was your impression of the industry at what was quite a tumultuous time?
RH I found it was broadly very positive aside from one aspect: investment. There was a lot of work still coming through for a lot of printers, and although prices were being squeezed, that work still warranted investment. It’s no surprise to me that those that did invest are the ones that are coming out of the recession stronger, while others stagnate.
JS Did your course give you a good handle on the business side of printing, then?
RH Definitely. In the third year, I had a great lecturer called Nick Young who really pushed the financial side of things and I learned loads about the business side of printing in that time.
JS It sounds like the course was the perfect start to a career in print. But how do you view the near-eradication of such courses since your time at university?
RH I think it’s a real problem. The worry my course mates and I have is that, in 10 years or so, we will hopefully be in a position to recruit, but we have little idea of where that next generation of printers are going to come from.
JS Should the printers be stepping in to provide apprenticeships?
RH Well, I was one of the only people on my course to work in a practical print environment alongside the course, working at Euro Label Printers in London. Without doubt, that practical experience is integral to making you understand the true nature of print. While the university experience is good, you cannot underestimate the impact of a real working environment alongside it.
I realise, however, that for most printers, there is just too much complexity in setting up apprenticeships. There is too much legislation and paperwork, and the health and safety is overwhelming to the point that it is often not financially viable to take an apprentice on.
JS Is there a problem in getting students to embrace print as an industry as well?
RH There are some very talented unemployed graduates out there at the moment (particularly engineers) looking for jobs, who would be perfect for print. The hardest thing for printers is that those graduates have a preconception of what wages they should be earning and what conditions they should be offered. And so the challenge for printers is to persuade those graduates that there is a path in print that would enable them to fulfil their goals. Printers have to lay out a very clear path where the graduate can see where they should be in two years, three years, five years and so on, both in terms of job opportunities and where wages will increase. For example, if there is the possibility of being operations director in a certain timeframe, then spell out that this is a possibility.
But there should also be some give from the student in return. I would happily sign a contract for a set number of years and commit myself to that company for a set period after the training, whereby if I left within that time I would have to repay the cost of said training. That is standard outside the industry and should be standard within print.
JS So, would you say you are advocating apprenticeships over university-based training?
RH I think that it is almost impossible to run a purely academic print course now. The costs are just too high to do it properly with all the kit and resources. And if you go down a purely an apprenticeship route, you also have an issue whereby you get pigeonholed very quickly into one area.
I found that a balanced academic and practical experience worked perfectly. So my recommendation would be to try and create this situation by teaming a group of printers in different print areas with an academic body in a partnership training scheme. I think it would need several key players, from manufacturers to the BPIF, to make it work, and it would need a very good college or university to be the central point around which the others could congregate. This way, you would get a joined-up training situation whereby the industry invests in its own future and as a result, the next generation gets both the academic and the practical experience it needs.
JS Do you think that those potential partners would see a benefit from their involvement?
RH Let’s say, for example, it gives you 20 very well trained students per year entering the industry. That would provide a really strong knowledge base going forwards; 20 people who can take a lead and pass on that knowledge to others. That is in everyone’s interest.
JS You’re clearly very passionate about the future of the industry. Where do you see yourself going at the end of your graduate training with HP?
RH Well, the graduate programme with HP comes to an end in May next year. Between now and then I am going to focus on the areas I see myself wanting and needing to develop in, through immersing myself in pursuing fields of interest. There are a few areas I would like to get more experience in before settling on my path. For instance, I would like to get more valuable practical industry experience. After May – we will just have to wait and see.
JS Do you have a particular area of interest in print?
RH I think that the big area for me is packaging. It is such an exciting area and one that is really growing in the print industry. It’s often really innovative, too.
JS So will we be talking to you again in 10 years as a training guru, a managing director of a packaging printer or a man at the centre of the manufacturer side?
RH Who knows! The only thing I know for sure is that I want to be active in getting young people into this industry. I want young people to see it how I see it. I would say to anyone reading: if you want me to come and talk to students or promote the industry to young people, I will be really keen to help.
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